Friday March 20, 2015

Pacific warm water ‘blob’ threatens salmon, seabirds

Temperature anomalies in degrees Celsius in the northeast Pacific from March, 2014

Temperature anomalies in degrees Celsius in the northeast Pacific from March, 2014 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Listen 6:25

Nick Bond. (Nick Bond)

It’s being called “the blob”: a huge mass of warm water sitting on top of the usually cool Pacific along the coast from Oregon to Alaska, and while it’s encouraging sub-tropical fish to range further north, it’s hurting the animals that usually depend on the colder water.

The “blob” was first coined by ocean researcher Nick Bond, who’s based in Seattle. He tells As It Happens host Carol Off how the “blob” got its name. Bond explains that it’s because of the way less-dense warmer water sits on top of the more-dense cooler water.

It first appeared in the winter of 2014, and it’s now “morphed” stretching along much of western North America’s coastline. It is likely responsible for the struggles of California sea lions as well as the deaths of thousands of Cassin’s auklets, which began washing up on Pacific shores in December.

The water in the “blob” is around three degrees warmer than the usual temperature, Bond says.

“What we are really worried about are the salmon that are going to sea this spring,” Bond says, noting the hatchlings depend on fatty prey that don’t do well in warmer water. He expects it to be a bad year for Coho and Chinook salmon especially.

While Bond thinks “blob” will eventually dissipate, he does see it as a harbinger of climate change to come. “The sort of temperatures that we’re seeing in the Eastern North Pacific are kind of like what we’re expecting to be the rule, rather than the exception, in a few decades.”